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The spiral galaxy NGC 6946 (shown in false color) lies at a distance of 17 million light years
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NASA

Two Worlds Collide
News story originally written on July 20, 1997

Astronomers saw a very bright object at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. It was seen again by the ROSAT X-ray satellite. Astronomers first thought it was a young supernova. A supernova is when a star explodes, throwing off gas and other materials. Because of the explosion, the materials are moving at very high speeds.

Astronomers were very confused about the identity of the object because it didn't have the composition a young supernova should have. With the help of the Hubble Space Telescope, the confusion was ended.

Using the Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, astronomers were able to identify two separate objects very close to each other. The images showed two supernovae (the plural of supernova) crashing into each other.

Just like two cars crashing, two supernovae crashing can be dramatic. In this case the crashing caused the very dramatic light display that astronomers first saw.

William P. Blair, a John Hopkins University astrophysicist, is leading the team of scientists who are studying the supernovae in galaxy NGC 6946. The NGC 6946 is like our own galaxy, the Milky Way, because it is a spiral galaxy. It is located 17 million light years away and can be viewed in the northern constellation Cepheus.


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